When Is It Okay To Use Poor Sounding Audio?
It's never been easier for hobbyists and amateur podcasters to produce a high quality show. But there will still likely be times when your audio sounds less than optimal (to put it politely). And you need to know how to deal with that.
The good news is that bad sounding audio doesn't have to mean that your show itself sounds bad. If that sounds like a contradiction, read on…
Why Ever Use Poor Sounding Audio?
Let's look at examples of when you might have to use poor sounding audio, and why it's not always such a big issue for listeners.
1. You're working on a documentary or historical show and you need to use vintage recordings.
Fair enough. There's no real choice here and in any case most people feel that old recordings should sound their age.
2. You're starting out podcasting.
Many veterans of the podcasting scene will tell you that if you have an interest in podcasting then jump in after you've learned the basics and get better along the way. It's generally good advice. You're very unlikely to get more than a few dozen downloads an episode at the beginning, so there's little to lose.
More importantly, unless you have a background in sound production, then you need time simply to learn to recognize what a good recording even is.
3. Your guest can only talk to you via a spotty skype connection, or cell phone.
Most podcasters will also tell you content is king, so book that guest. If he or she is as good as you think then people will forgive the sound quality (if they even reflect on it for more than a second).
4. You're on the road and recording in some less than ideal setting.
If you're broadcasting from a non-ideal location, then let your listeners know how the sound is coming to them.
This is especially true if you are broadcasting live. YouTube, Facebook Live and Periscope have made us all very tolerant of rough audio from content producers we generally enjoy.
How To Deal With Bad Audio
1. Improve It
Unless you're recording live, as mentioned above, it's still best not to test the patience of your audience with completely grating sound, as there are usually ways to quickly improve a poor recording.
Low and high pass filters can reduce rumble and distortion; noise gates can reduce echo and EQ filters can “round out” a voice to make it more pleasing to the ear.
Finally, background music can disguise a great deal of flaws, as can adding a track of street noises or the din of a cafe.
We use Audacity or Audition for our editing, and both have all the power you need to carry out your repair work. Remember we have a full beginner to expert Audacity editing course in the Podcast Host Academy.
Or, use the following link if you want to go with Adobe Audition (that's our affiliate link, but we recommend it nonetheless – it's what we use day to day!) and I love Mike Russell's Audition course on Udemy to get up to speed.
2. Focus On a Well-Produced Show
This is key. As I mentioned at the start, the presence of poor sounding audio doesn't mean your show is necessarily going to sound badly produced, amateurish, or un-listenable. Why? Well, consider vintage recordings again. They sound the way they do and there is not much you can do about, or likely would even want to do.
A more interesting example for me though is found in the hit podcast Serial. Remember how host Sarah Koenig occasionally talked to Adnan Syed on a cell phone? And remember how it sounded like a cell phone conversation: rough, compressed, scratchy? Before the first conservation Sarah even apologized in advance, mentioning that the upcoming section was going to a be a bit rough, so listener beware.
But did she really need to do that. Who was going to turn off Serial over a patch of rough audio?
- The show had compelling and coherent hosts and guests.
- It had a sense of a well-thought out structure, of a smooth or logical transition from scene to scene.
- It was well researched and had extremely well written intros, outros, and summaries.
- It had well edited dialogue and monologues.
In other words, the show was obviously well produced, very clearly a quality professional production, rough cell phone conversations not-withstanding.
Tips for Creating A Well-Produced, Quality Show
- Make sure your voice is well recorded. And work on those presentation skills.
- Make sure any music, sound effects, or transitions are well chosen, are ducked properly, and have smooth fade ins and outs. If the first couple minutes of your show sound smooth and well produced then the poorer audio of the guest, or the occasional rough patch, is much more likely to be tolerated, or ignored.
- Spend time on your writing and research. Make that introduction sparkle. Introduce anecdotes and facts that will make your listeners eager to hear what your guest has to say and not how she sounds saying it.
- Edit the rough content tightly for pauses, coughs, stutters, and redundancies. Don't make listeners suffer through a hissing, crackling “um”.
- Own up to the poor quality of any piece of audio and try to find a creative way to do so. For example, on a recent podcast my guest, who was in Nepal, mentioned that the reason there was so much background noise was because he had to sit outside where the hotel's modem was. If he sat inside in his quieter room then the thick cement walls would dampen the wifi signal. By leaving that anecdote in the final show, and actually making reference to it myself when I introduced the guest, the rough audio became gritty ambiance and a constant reminder of the very remote location where my guest was talking from.
In the end we can never control every variable as much as we'd like. But if you learn to master all the skills around podcasting then the occasional glitch won't derail your efforts to produce a quality show. And if you do want to do the repair work, in the end, then check out our professional Audacity editing course within the Podcast Host Academy to find out how!